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2013-14 Foothill League Boys basketball preview

Posted: January 13, 2014 8:51 p.m.
Updated: January 13, 2014 8:51 p.m.

Canyon junior guard Ben Taufahema (3) is part of a Cowboys starting five that has a lot of chemistry. The Cowboys are off to a 16-1 start.

 

The way last year’s Foothill League boys basketball season played out taught an important lesson — pretty much anything can happen.

In the final game of league play, the Canyon Cowboys pulled off the upset of the season in a 62-61 win over Hart, which was playing for a league championship.

As the 2014 slate of league games begins tonight for all teams, Hart will return with likely the most talented team in town, notably the incredible guard combination of Myles Franklin and Lewis Stallworth, two Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team selections.

But like anyone else, Hart needs to be on the lookout for the experienced and scrappy teams like Canyon and Valencia, and the young, talented teams like West Ranch.

Despite losing two of the best players in league to graduation, the two-time defending league champion West Ranch Wildcats come in with another deep group of players with big-game abilities.

While most teams will rely on speedy, athletic guards, Saugus is a team with plenty of big men who can win games on the inside.

As for Golden Valley, it comes in with a new coach and a new mentality, hoping to end a 30-game losing streak against Foothill opponents.

In this league, no two teams are alike. Each brings its own strategy and style based on the players in place.

Which brand of basketball will bring home the crown this time?

West Ranch

The last two seasons have been quite a ride for West Ranch, which rode the incredible duo of guard Kevin Harris and center Ako Kaluna to two straight Foothill crowns – last year’s was outright.

But just because those two have graduated and the Wildcats are 6-9 to start the season, does that mean the gig is up? Hardly.

For one thing, the Wildcats have easily played the toughest schedule of any Foothill team coming into league play. In the second game of the season they took on Loyola, currently recognized by Maxpreps.com as the No. 2 team in California and the third best team overall in the country.

Since then, they’ve faced Maxpreps top 30 teams Sacramento High three times as well as Centennial High of Corona and Chaminade of West Hills.

For West Ranch, junior point guard and returning Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley second-teamer Ryan Beddeo leads a group rife with talent. Beddeo will be healthy for the Foothill League season, but missed extended time during preleague competition due to various injuries.

The Wildcats have a little bit of everything. There’s 6-foot, 3-inch guard Christian Ware-Berry, the skilled scorer who transferred from Providence High of Burbank who will play alongside returning varsity forward Izayah Doyle and 6-foot-10 Alemany transfer Ryne Williams.

“I think we’re right there at the top to tell the truth,” Bicakci said. “I think we’ve got some good size. Our guards are good and we’re battle tested. There’s nothing in league that’s really going to catch us by surprise.”

Hart

Hart is two things — talented and deep.

It’s biggest problem will be playing everybody, said Hart head coach Tom Kelly.

But talent and depth don’t automatically translate to wins — ask last season’s Hart team which could have shared a Foothill League title with West Ranch but was upset by a Canyon team that had a 3-6 league record going into that Foothill finale.

Hart has two returning All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team guards who can fill it up — senior Lewis Stallworth and junior Myles Franklin.

The Indians have backup guards who could start on most teams — seniors Frank Lonsinger and Chase White.

The Indians have a powerful forward in Davis Koppenhaver, whose stronger after a season of football and will give teams matchup problems.

The Indians have five players at 6 feet, 5 inches or above.

They will score, will be able to defend with more teneacity because they can utilize the deep bench and they can mix and match with the lineup.

“I think this team has all the pieces,” Kelly said. “We can go big, small. We can put five shooters on the floor. It’s really diverse and balanced.”

Valencia

Even at less than full strength, Valencia has found a way to win a lot of games already.

Head coach Rocket Collins gives credit to his team’s defense for the 12-4 record and a pair of third-place finishes in the Simi Valley tourney and the Ventura County Classic, both marquee events.

The Vikings, ranked 14th in CIF-Southern Section Division IAA, are working with a lineup made up almost entirely of guards. Junior Malik McCowan and seniors Angel Cardenas and Jaleel Howard will start at the traditional guard positions while aggressive junior Alex Sanchez will take on the small forward position.

None of the four returning players are taller than 6-foot-2, and only Howard started last season.

Most of the season, Valencia has played without 6-foot-4 junior Kyle Ensing, who will start at forward when he gets back from an out-of-town volleyball tournament.

The two-sport athlete should return for league play, Collins said.

The Vikings will also go without sophomore Chibuzo Ikonte, who will miss the season after he collapsed during a basketball practice in September.

“We’ll be OK,” Collins said. “Foothill League is always tough so it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past.”

Canyon

Last season, Canyon had to grow up with a young team and a new head coach.

All the progress it made looks to be paying off in the early going of this season as the Cowboys have jumped to a 16-1 start and are ranked fifth in CIF-SS Division IIAA.

Nearly the entire starting lineup from a season ago remains intact, and it’s as solid of a group as there is in the league.

Junior guard Ben Taufahema is equally as good at rebounding and finding teammates as he is scoring.

Joining him will be versatile 6-foot-3 forward Dean Hendrix-Davis, who missed most of last year’s league season after suffering injuries in a car accident.

At full strength, he can be one of the more disruptive post players in the league.

Adding to the list of talented guards will be senior returners Marc Cabrera and Mark Bell, who can shoot, distribute and help run the tight-knit offense.

Outside of the main four returners for Canyon, players like junior guard and strong ball handler Derek Range will pitch in as well 6-foot-4 post man and former football player Jarom Sims.

“I think we’re smart enough to know it’s a very, very tough league and that there are probably other teams that are more favored than us,” said Canyon second-year head coach Sean DeLong. “I like our shot. If we have a shot to be in it at the end, I like our chances.”

Saugus

The last time Saugus finished better than third place in league was the 2007-08 season, when it finished second.

The Centurions may have an opportunity this year for a couple reasons.

For one, Saugus is one of the few teams in league with the size to be able to control the paint with two 6-foot-6 players in senior Luke Wheeler and junior Caleb Grisanti.

Also wreaking havoc in the low post will be 6-foot-3 senior forward Amir Mirtabatabaie, the returning All-SCV second-teamer who possesses an impressive combination of skill and strength.

The other returning full-time starter is dynamic senior point guard Jacob Tobon. The offense will go through him.

“He’s very heady with the ball,” Ballard of Tobon. “He’s very crafty. A very good shooter – a very good passer and he’s an excellent driver.”

Saugus is 9-9 after playing mostly tournaments and just two home games, which means it is once again a team coming in as a relative unknown to the rest of the league.

Ballard said that’s helping the team play with a needed chip on their shoulders.

Another contributor for Saugus will be senior guard Keegan Alexander, who played some varsity minutes last season and will be a key scorer this season.

The Centurions will also bring in junior Adrian Arguello and senior Pat Selva, who are both quick, athletic guards capable of defending some of the more skilled players around the league.

Golden Valley

Dan Alon takes over as Golden Valley’s third different head coach in three years and he inherits a team that hasn’t won a league contest in three seasons.

But instead of doom and gloom, Alon is preaching patience with this squad.

“The No. 1 key when taking over a program that’s down is to establish a culture and just the belief that you can compete and you can win,” Alon said. “That just takes time. It’s not something that’s built overnight.”

Despite bringing back just three players with any previous varsity experience, the 7-7 Grizzlies are maturing fast.

Three seniors set the foundation for Golden Valley, with point guard Tristan Peralta distributing to forward Harrison Edwards and 6-foot-5 center Jordan Watkins.

The Grizzlies lost guard Dominic Gully, who transferred to Highland of Palmdale and swingman C.J. Jacobs, who transferred to Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks.

As for the players who stuck around, sophomore guard/forward Derek Schlossman and senior Cameron Knox will help round out a lineup made up of six seniors.

— Signal sports editor Cary Osborne contributed to this story

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